Tag Archives: culture

375. The LEP Pub Quiz (with Alex Love)

Hello and welcome back to the podcast. In this episode I’m talking to my friend Alex Love. We started this conversation in the previous episode and here is part 2. In this conversation Alex is in Edinburgh in Scotland and I’m in Warwick in England. In the previous episode we talked about pub quizzes and how they’re a common part of pub culture in the UK, so in this episode I thought we would play a kind of pub quiz with each other. The only problem is that neither of us are in a pub, but that doesn’t matter – this is a podcast and you can use your imagination.

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The rules of the game are pretty simple. Alex and I have prepared 5 questions each and we take it in turns to ask each other the questions. A correct answer gains one point, an incorrect answer gains nothing. All my questions are related to the English language, and all Alex’s questions are random trick questions and much more difficult than my ones. I’m not hinting at who wins the quiz there. No, not at all. You’ll have to listen to the whole thing to find out who wins, but I should point out that Alex’s questions are not proper questions and they’re designed to make me fail, a bit like my Dad’s questions in our recent game show. But I’m not making excuses or giving away the result of the quiz. No, of course not.

As you listen I think you should try to answer the questions too. You might need to pause the recording in order to give yourself a bit of time. Alex and I both explain our thought processes while answering the questions, and you could do that too. Try pausing the recording when you hear the question and then talking out loud while you think about the answer. Then continue listening and you’ll hear Alex and me doing the same thing – talking about our thought process before giving our answer. You can compare the way you talked about your thoughts and the way we did it. That can be a good way of comparing the language you and we are using.

Either that, or just sit back, brew up a cup of tea, or continue travelling on the bus like a normal person, and just listen to the magic of another episode of this podcast, recorded, produced, edited and published by the very modest me.

Right, without any further ado, let’s start the LEP Pub Quiz.

Questions (Listen to the episode to get the answers)

  1. Where was the lawn-mower invented? (which town)
  2. What is the most common noun in the English language?
  3. Which creature has the largest eyes in the world?
  4. What is the word for when two words come together to create a new word? e.g. ‘spork’
  5. Which mammal can go longest without water?
  6. What is the shortest possible sentence in the English language.
  7. How long was the 100 years war?
  8. What is the only planet in the solar system not named after a god?
  9. Translate this from German into English – Ich habe keine Ahnung 
  10. Name the only two words in the English language that end in the suffix -gry.

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358. Fête de la Musique / World Music Festival in Paris

Join my wife and *me as we walk around the streets of Paris during the annual World Music Festival. You’ll hear live music, descriptions of the scene, a couple of conversations with people we met, and the sounds of this amazing evening in the city of light. It’s another long episode, but I hope you listen to all of it because I just really want to share the atmosphere and moments of this special event. Check below for photos.

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This episode was recorded yesterday evening on 21 June, which is the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year. It’s also World Music Day and here in Paris there is always a big music festival on this date, called “Fête de la Musique”. In Paris the whole city comes alive all night as live bands and musicians perform music on every street corner. The whole city becomes a big festival and it’s one of the best nights of the year here. The streets are filled with people partying, having a good time, drinking, socialising and dancing to the music.

So last night my wife and I went out to walk around the area and get into the spirit of the festival and in fact my wife suggested that I do some recordings so I could show another side of life in Paris, because it’s not all just Euro 2016, floods, strikes and terror alerts. There are loads of amazing things going on. Yesterday we had a brilliant evening and I’m really glad I captured it on the podcast.

So, I invite you to join us as we take a stroll through the streets of Paris on this hot summer evening, taking in the various musical performances, getting into the spirit of the evening and meeting a few people along the way. I met a few people during the evening and recorded short interviews with them. They were mainly Brits (a couple of guys from England, a French guy and a Belgian guy who spoke good English and two guys from Northern Ireland) and I asked them a couple of questions about the big stories of the moment like the football and the EU referendum.

You will also hear plenty of live music which I recorded yesterday. On every street corner there was a different band or a DJ playing. There were some moments when I chose just to record the music and not to speak, so you will hear some little musical interludes sometimes in which I’m not actually saying anything and it’s just live music, so you can soak up the atmosphere of what turned out to be a really brilliant evening in Paris. I hope you enjoy being part of it and that you can use your imagination to picture the scenes. The sounds should be in stereo too, so if you’re listening on headphones it should sound pretty cool.

There are some photos on the page for this episode (below), so check them out!

Now, I will let you listen to my audio diary of la fete de la music in Paris. I really enjoyed recording this episode and I really hope you enjoy it too and that you get into the atmosphere of this evening of music and good vibes!

Photos

325. Catching Up with Oli / Future Predictions (Part 1)

Here’s a 2-part episode featuring a conversation with my cousin Oliver in which we talk about first some challenges he faced over the last few years (including dramatic things like a scooter crash, a tropical disease, a burglary and how he completely flooded his own house) and then some more positive things about being a father and predictions for how society will be different in the future. Also, listen for some general news and announcements about Luke’s English Podcast.

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Announcements & News

  • I hope you enjoyed the episodes I recorded as a tribute to David Bowie. Unfortunately, so soon after we lost Bowie, the news came that another great person has died – the British actor Alan Rickman, who like Bowie was 69 years old and died from cancer. He’s most famous for playing the part of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, and the part of Hans Gruber the bad guy in the film Die Hard with Bruce Willis – both very enjoyable and distinguished performances, but he played many other roles too. Alan Rickman was known for his sardonic humour, his wonderfully rich and unique voice, and for bringing a great amount of weight and humanity as well as humour to his roles. He will be missed too.
  • And, I haven’t even mentioned Lemmy – the lead singer of the group Motorhead, who also died recently. Lemmy played a massive part in the invention of heavy metal music, and was generally a huge personality in the world of British rock. He was on the scene all the way from the 60s until this year when he passed away due to cancer. Lemmy was known for his gravelly voice, his appearance (he looked like a biker dressed in leather with big mutton-chop sideburns and moles on his face – he wasn’t a pretty guy like Bowie by any means), his hard-drinking speed fuelled lifestyle and his bizarre obsession with Nazi regalia – clothing, weapons and so on from the Nazi era. He wasn’t a bad guy, he just liked the designs and imagery from that time – it had nothing to do with the ideology, and at heart he was just committed to playing loud and fast music and living a loud and fast lifestyle – and he will surely go down in history as a true legend of the music world. So, that’s three people, at least. So, can famous British people stop dying please!? If we carry on at this rate there’ll be none left by the end of the year.
  • But let’s not dwell on these dark things any more! I’m glad to present you this episode today because this one is all about the future, and new life because my cousin Oli is going to be a Dad for the first time – his wife is expecting a baby daughter at any time, so let’s look to the future, with new life and positivity and all that stuff! We’ll start that in just a minute, but first – a little bit of admin…
  • The comments issue on the website is fixed. I just needed to do a few updates. You can now post comments on the homepage again. No worries!
  • Email subscribers – are you still receiving emails when I post new episodes? I had a couple of messages from listeners recently who said they hadn’t received emails with new episodes. How about you? If you’re an email subscriber, could you let me know if you received emails for the David Bowie episodes, the episode called With the Thompsons, and the Star Wars spoiler review.
  • Picture comp is finished – so, don’t send me any more photos please! Thank you for the photos I have received in my email account, and, of course, I have loads of pictures. They’ll go up on the website soon and you can pick your favourite. I’m a little bit concerned about how that’s going to work because there are about a billion photos, but I’ll work something out.
  • I’ll be meeting Paul and Amber again soon. Firstly to catch up with them both – because quite a lot has happened since we last spoke on the podcast. Amber went to Costa Rica, and Paul Taylor is now something of a celebrity as his comedy video about kissing in France went super-viral over the last few weeks. His video, “Paul Taylor – La Bise” is about his frustration with the French custom of kissing people when you meet them. It was uploaded onto Robert Hoehn’s YouTube channel French Fried TV on new year’s day and within the space of just a few days it got over 1 million views. He was featured on lots of French websites, radio and TV, and then the video went global on the BBC’s website and more. Paul also has a new solo comedy show every Saturday (as well as the one with me on Thursdays) and it’s completely sold out for the next 10 weeks or something. Wow! Remember when he was on this podcast talking about how he quit his job to do comedy? Remember how difficult it was in Edinburgh? Well, things seem to be working out for him now! Good news!

  • Also, I hope to get Amber and him on this podcast again (if he’ll come on now that he’s such a big celebrity) in order to do that interactive version of the Lying Game – remember that? Listen to “318. The Rematch (Part 2)” to find out the details. Basically, this is a chance for you to get involved in another version of the lying game.  All three of us said some statements, and you now have to write questions in the comments section for episode 318. IN the episode we’ll ask each other your questions, and answer them. Then you can decide if they’re true or lies. Again, listen to 318. The Rematch (Part 2) for all the details (listen until the end).

Introduction to this Episode

As you know at Chrimbo I want back to the UK and stayed with my family, and with my cousin at his home in Bristol. It’s been a while since he was last on the podcast, and quite a lot has changed with him. In our conversation we talk about lots of things and I really think this is an interesting episode, and a very valuable one from a language point of view. The topics we talk about are diverse and quite in-depth and as a result we use lots of different features of grammar and vocabulary. I always encourage you to notice language while listening to native speakers on this podcast, so try to do that in this episode if you can. First we talk about what happened to Oli since the last time he was on the podcast, so watch out for the ways in which we talk about the past – tenses, and other forms. Oli faced a few difficulties and challenges, so watch out for the ways he describes those things. Essentially, he tells me a few anecdotes about some of his difficulties in London, watch out for past tenses and so on. Then we talk about the future, and about various predictions for the next 10-20 years, so naturally you can try to notice the specific language, tenses and modal verbs that we use to describe the future, make predictions and make judgements about the future. As well as that, there’s a lot of vocabulary related to technology, transport and communication.

In my opinion this is a very useful conversation for you to listen to. I loved catching up with Oli and I sincerely hope you enjoy listening to it, and by the way, listen all the way to the end to hear Oli play a bit of guitar – and he’s a really good guitarist.

That’s it!

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324. David Bowie (Part 2)

Hello, welcome to Luke’s English Podcast, which is a  podcast for learners of English around the world. This is part 2 of a special episode about English musician David Bowie who died just a few days ago on 10 January 2016. The aim of this episode is to talk about David Bowie’s significance as an artist, to consider some of the themes of his work and to look at why so many people had such a strong emotional attachment to him. Hopefully after listening to this episode you’ll be better able to have conversations about David Bowie, but also about art and culture in general. You can find almost everything I’m saying transcribed on the page for this episode – see below.

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In part 1 I talked about Bowie’s career up until about the year 1975. So let’s carry on in just a moment, but before that I just want to say that since I recorded this episode I’ve realised that there are lots of other things didn’t mention. For example, I could have talked more about his first wife Angie and his second wife Iman. They say that behind every great man there’s a great woman. If that’s true then Bowie must have had two great women in his life – and probably quite a lot of average ones as well I expect… Anyway, joking aside, I’m sure they had big parts to play in his life, and I hope they’re alright. It’s hard for us to lose an artist we love, but I can’t imagine what it’s like for his close family who must have cared about him in so many other ways.

Anyway, let’s get back into this episode and I’ll carry on from where I stopped last time in the mid-70s.

Part 2

It’s hard to explain everything that happened in the 1970s! It was a whirlwind of different things, and incredible music. Everything moved so fast for Bowie during that period, and he was really ahead of everyone else in terms of fashion. Bowie was very ahead of his time.

Around this time he starred in a film called The Man Who Fell To Earth, directed by Nicholas Roeg. In it he plays the character of an alien who lands on earth and attempts to make sense of the place. He was perfect for the part and it is still a mesmerizing performance. He was a great actor. IN the film he’s very thin and his otherworldliness and his vulnerability were perfect for the part of an alien, alone on earth.

If you’ve seen the film “Under the Skin” with Scarlett Johannson, I think it borrowed a lot from “The Man Who Fell To Earth”.


Why was he so thin? Drugs and his excessive lifestyle.
It’s amazing that he survived that period.
You can see him in quite a dark place in the documentary film about him called “Cracked Actor”.
This is partly due to the ravages of his rock and roll lifestyle – touring, performing and being a celebrity can have a weird effect on a person, but add drugs into the mix and things can get seriously out of control.
Bowie took a lot of cocaine in the 70s. ultimateclassicrock.com/david-bowie-cocaine/
He did this mainly to help him work, but also because it was fun of course (in the beginning). I think cocaine can give you lots of energy which allows you to keep working much more intensively and for longer periods than people who are not using it, but it comes with a price of course – to your wallet, but to your mental and physical condition. Apparently it is incredibly habit-forming and very difficult to break away from. Ultimately, if you continue to use it then eventually it will use you. “Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar eats you.” I don’t know where that quote comes from, but I guess it means that “you might use drugs, but eventually the drugs will use you.” And I don’t know what drugs will use you for… it’s probably best not to let drugs use you or dictate your life. They’ll take you to bad places.

Paranoia, weird eating habits, alcohol, obsessions.
He was incredibly thin and seemed to be quite out of his mind during that period.
Check out some of his interviews and TV appearances, and photos of him at the Grammy Awards with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1975. He looks almost like a skeleton.
Grammy Awards in 1975 - from left to right: Bowie, Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon, Yoko Ono, John Lennon

He later described this period as horrible. Imagine being so far out of your mind and yet so lost within yourself that all your demons are made real and are talking to you in persuasive, frightening and seductive voices. Apparently Bowie was so disturbed and paranoid that he could only bear to eat certain foods. Apparently he lived for quite a while just drinking milk and eating green peppers, while snorting cocaine all the time and drinking alcohol. It’s amazing that he survived.

I think his problems at that time were not just drug related, but also identity related. Apparently he had let the Ziggy Stardust persona take over his real life. He wasn’t sure where Ziggy or Aladdin Sane ended and David Bowie began. The lines became blurred. Reality and performance were all messed up, and he lost a sense of who he really was. He must have nearly lost his grip on reality for a while. Again, he was the astronaut spinning into deep space.

Nevertheless, despite the craziness in his personal life at the time, he continued to make some of the best music of his career and it’s all there for us to listen to, like great albums such as Young Americans and Station to Station. Always such fantastic music and well written songs. That’s the bedrock of all of it – he wrote very good songs. He combined appealing and popular music which also contained some very complex and avant-garde elements, like a crazy freeform piano solo here, some very unorthodox string arrangements, some totally distinctive chord changes, and some incredibly versatile singing. Some people say Bowie couldn’t sing, but it’s not true. He had quite a narrow sounding voice, but he used it in a lot of different ways and could sing low or very high. Sometimes he would sing in a kind of cockney accent, and sometimes he’d use a posher, deeper and more distinguished voice.

The Berlin Period
My Dad didn’t have any records by Bowie from 1975 until 1983, so I missed the whole Berlin period, and I still haven’t really explored it, which is, on one hand terrible because how can I be a fan without really knowing those records, but also great because I’m going to explore all those albums now. My uncle sent me 3 CDs not long ago – Low, Lodger and Heroes. I’m going to feast on those LPs. He’s always been good that way, my uncle Nic. Never been on the podcast, but he’s a huge music lover and a massive fan of Bowie. When I was 16 Nic made me a tape. It had Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, David Bowie and The Clash on it. What an education. My uncle saw Bowie perform live 3 times. At one of those performances it was 1975 or 1976 and he was right at the front of the audience. He actually saw Bowie performing as the Thin White Duke, just a few metres away. It must have been incredible. I’ve been chatting a bit with Nic, and my brother who is also a big fan. Here are some of the things that my Uncle said to me via text just yesterday.

Nic: I feel really very sad about it, more than I can imagine for someone I never actually knew. Except of course I did in a way. Such a soundtrack through my adult life. The highlight for me was being near the front at Wembley Pool for the Thin White Duke, maybe the best concert we ever went to. The greatest artist of my generation.

Saw him three times but The Duke was the best, mainly also because we saw him swept away in the back of a huge black limousine after the gig, this little white genius in the back of this huge black car.

Luke: I’m about to do a podcast about Bowie, but I really don’t know where to start.

Nic: What you have to say is that part of his genius was the utter unpredictable nature. Each successive album was unique and different, you never knew what to expect. But it was always different and fascinating.

Good luck with the podcast I’m sure you’ll manage it but don’t worry if you can’t. Such a huge subject.

Luke Thompson: I’ll do what I can! Didn’t someone once say that art is never finished, it’s just abandoned? I’m not saying my podcast is art or anything, but I think you know what I mean.

Nic: I do. I think you and David would’ve got on really well!

Luke: Oh man, what a thought!

My bro sent me a little voice message. Here it is.
(James’ audio message)

Anyway, back to the Berlin period. I think what happened is that Bowie decided to get out of LA in order to escape all the drugs and madness. He moved to Berlin with Iggy Pop. I think they believed that there would be no drugs in Berlin, but they were wrong – apparently there was lots of heroin. I don’t think Bowie used heroin. Good – that’s the real killer and must be avoided at all costs. His friend Iggy Pop (real name James Osterberg) was a heroin addict, so I think he may have succumbed to it there, I’m not sure. But for Bowie, Berlin was a chance to start piecing his life together again and work on new projects. He also split from his wife Angie during this period. (Yes, during all the madness of the previous few years he had married and had a child, now called Duncan Jones – he’s a filmmaker who did a really great science fiction film called Moon, which is quite reminiscent of Bowie’s song Space Oddity).

Anyway, Berlin was Bowie’s attempt to begin again, and although it must have been a difficult and troubling time for him, it was also an extremely creative period, again. Some say it’s the peak of his career, but David Bowie had so many different peaks. Just pick one.

Berlin and the art scene there influenced him a lot. His records from that period were a collaboration with Brian Eno, and they have a totally different feel to the Thin White Duke period. They’re stark, sparse, quite low-fi, quite gritty, depressing yet with an air of grounded optimism and a sense of rebirth. It’s amazing how he managed to change and find new creativity with each step. I think artists are always struggling to find that inspiration to be creative. You can’t always manufacture the creative urge, it just comes to you and you have to try and put it into music or paint or whatever you’re using. I’m amazed at how Bowie managed to follow his creative muse so consistently and regularly. He was really in touch with something – a creative channel, that most of us don’t have access to. It makes us think that Bowie knew things that the rest of us don’t know. I don’t really understand that, but it’s true of all great artists I think – that they have direct access to something that we don’t, and they are able to put it into their art and then we can have access to it too. I feel like that about The Beatles too.

Song: Ashes to Ashes.
This was made just after the Berlin period and it’s his way of saying goodbye to the 70s. The song is incredible, especially when performed live. It has a really cool funk groove, but it also has some really weird and original chord changes and melodies. For me the lyrics are about him looking at his recent past and putting it behind him. It’s about letting the past be the past and moving on. I really can’t do justice in words to how poignant this song feels for me whenever I listen to it. It just grabs my feelings and throws them around all over the place. I don’t want to sound pretentious, that’s genuinely what the song does to me. I care about it in personal ways that I can’t go into now. I love the strength in the song. That you can move on and change and that you are not defined by your past. That’s incredibly brave and positive.

My Dad had another album – Let’s Dance, released in 1983. Perhaps Bowie’s biggest commercial hit. Produced by Nile Rogers.
On the cover Bowie was dressed as a boxer and is throwing a punch. There are also some diagrams for dance steps. I like the analogy of boxing and music. Dancing can be like fighting, when you dance on your own that is. It can be like sparring with your demons, if you like.
Bowie was still in a suit in this period and had bleached blonde hair. He still looked super cool as always.
The production on the album is absolutely massive. It sounds incredible.
The vinyl was in much better condition.
Maybe my Dad listened to it less (I think having kids and a job took up most of his time) or maybe the technology had improved since then, and vinyl records were just better made.
“Let’s Dance” blew my socks off completely. Still does.
“China Girl” also sounded incredible. The musicianship was so tight. It was produced like an up-front commercial dance album. Apparently Bowie didn’t like it that much. I think it just didn’t match his artistic vision, but I love it – because I love the work of Nile Rogers (think tracks like “Good Times” by Chic or “He’s the greatest dancer” by Sister Sledge, and many other records).
My Dad told me that he thought China girl was a song about heroin. That was really intriguing to me. “How could those romantic lyrics be about drugs?” and also, I was interested to know if Bowie had used heroin, because I know how dangerous that drug is – just watch the film Trainspotting and you’ll know.
It turns out the song was written by Iggy Pop. That explains it. Iggy was the heroin addict.
Listening to it, there’s a lot of pain and despair in the lyrics. Bowie screams in pain, including the line “It’s in the whites of my eyes!” to describe the depth of Iggy’s drug addiction. That’s scary, but it’s a pop song.
In fact, the raw upbeat power of the song overwhelms the dark sentiment of the lyrics. Maybe that’s why Bowie wasn’t so keen on it.

Since listening to that album as a teenager (and throughout my life) I’ve learned that by 1983 Bowie had managed to get clean and had left his drug habit behind. That was always really impressive to me. He always managed to maintain such distinction and class, even when he must have been feeling so terrible sometimes. He really kept it together, but there must have been some pretty dark and difficult times. I respect him for having the strength of mind to stop. Lesser people would have been destroyed by the lifestyle he had. Apparently, to help him stay clean, Bowie had a tattoo on his leg of the serenity prayer, which is the common name for a prayer authored by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). It has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs. The best-known form is:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Which means I think – he wanted to remember that he could never go back to using drugs. I think some addicts slip back into using when they think they have the power to stop again, but they have to remember that their drug addiction is something they can’t change. If you believe you can control the addiction, you’re wrong. But you can control yourself by choosing to stay clean.

It’s something like that. But to me it’s impressive that he tattooed that onto his leg. He was really committed and strong-minded.

The 80s were a slightly mixed period artistically for Bowie. I think he probably got his personal life together but his art suffered a bit. Fair enough. I think he deserved to have some happiness and stability for a while and so what if some of his work in the late 80s wasn’t that great.

I remember seeing him again in about 1986 or 1987 when as a family we went to the cinema to watch a film called Labyrinth. David Bowie played the bad guy in the film – called Jareth The Goblin King. Basically it’s a kind of dark fairy tale about a girl who goes on adventure into a maze in order to rescue her baby brother who has been kidnapped by the goblin king. Bowie’s performance is pretty hilarious. He’s dressed up in a very camp outfit with big hair and tights. He sings a couple of songs. I remember being a bit disturbed by the film but I didn’t know why. Watching it back more recently I think I realised what it was – it’s Bowie’s tight trousers. They were… well… a bit too tight. I mean, you could see everything. The film was supposed to be scary and there were a few monsters in it, but really the most frightening monsters were on display under David’s tight pants. If you don’t know what I’m getting at, watch the film and you might see what I mean. I’m not the only one to have made that observation by the way. Apparently it was intentional too. The director wanted to create a villain who was attractive yet dangerous – like a rock star.

Bowie came back again in the 90s with another creative period. He reinvented himself as a kind of godfather of British rock music. He wore an awesome jacket with a union jack on it, and collaborated with drum and bass artists like Goldie.

For me the rest of his career is interesting but not quite as great as his earlier work, in terms of music. But he did lots of TV interviews and live performances and many of them are on YouTube. I like to think of his later period as his interview period, but of course he was involved in loads of other projects. There are plenty of things I’m not mentioning here just because it would be impossible to cover everything. One thing he did was use the internet to share his music, right from the beginning, before most other artists or companies used the internet for publishing. He really had his finger on the pulse. He was always ahead of his time.

His TV interviews on YouTube are great. He was always really interesting to listen to. He was very thoughtful, intelligent and articulate, and funny. He was really witty and had a fantastic sense of humour. That’s perhaps one of the most attractive things about him. He never ever took himself too seriously. He took the art really seriously, but never himself. His attitude was so refreshing. No ego.

He had a characteristic voice and way of speaking. It’s fun to do impressions of him and many comedians have done that over the years. My favourite impressions of Bowie are done by Hugh Cornwell on a TV show called Stella Street, and by Adam & Joe who are both Bowie obsessives, particularly Adam Buxton. They do great Bowie impressions. Check out the page for this episode to see those Bowie impressions and to listen to a long documentary that Adam did about Bowie. It’s brilliant.

Bowie released a few albums during the 2000s that were well received by critics, including Heathen and Reality.

Then he went quiet for a while after having a heart attack. He sort of disappeared from the media, except to help promote his son’s film “Moon”.

Then, more recently he came back with The Next Day, and just a week before his death his final album called Blackstar.

What’s interesting about this last couple of albums is that he seemes to be singing about his career as a whole, revisiting some of the themes, places and images that he created earlier.

What none of us predicted is that his latest album Blackstar is about his mortality. Listening to it now, immediately after his death, the songs and videos take on a much deeper significance. The album is very poignant and moving, and is full of puzzles and enigmas that seem to express his experience of coming to terms with his own death, and then dying, leaving us with a completed body of work. It is the perfect ending to his career.

Just over a week ago Bowie released his new album on his birthday.
Lots of people were talking about it, and Bowie fans were excited as usual to get some more music to explore.
We were all celebrating his return and wishing him a happy birthday.
So when we heard about his death, it came as a painful shock.
It was so unexpected, because we had no warning. We had no idea he was sick. He’d kept it secret.

It might seem like a small thing, but a new album of music from an artist you love can make a difference to your life in subtle ways.
A week before he died, early on a dark Monday morning while eating my corn flakes, I had watched the video to his song Blackstar. I found it to be really strange and quite frightening, yet with an appealing and catching song in the middle of it.
Just like much of Bowie’s best work, it’s both avant-garde and poppy. It’s not easy listening, it’s quite dark and moody, but I like that. Music shouldn’t always be safe. It should be challenging sometimes.
Anyway, the video disturbed me a bit. It was full of nightmarish visions, and seemed to be symbolic of something but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
I went to work that day and put it to the back of my mind, deciding to just come back and listen to the whole album at some point later.
Then a week passed and last Sunday evening came around. I couldn’t sleep.
I just couldn’t get to sleep.
That doesn’t always happen to me. Usually I get to sleep quite easily. I love sleeping.
This was one of those nights when I couldn’t rest. My mind was just wide awake and it was racing in lots of different directions at the same time. I ind it very frustrating and annoying, especially if I have work the next day. I just want to sleep but my mind seems to be connected to something and won’t switch off. (perhaps I should have listened to my own sleep episode – or tried the relaxation techniques, but I couldn’t focus)
It was disturbing to be still awake at 4am, just lying there in the darkness, with the stars in the sky outside, just staring into space even though my eyes were closed.

Eventually I dropped off and got a couple of hours of sleep, but I was feeling pretty delicate on Monday morning. You know how it is if you haven’t slept.
I had corn flakes again like normal. I have to get up extra early on Mondays in order to teach. My wife was still sleeping peacefully. Lucky her!
I got to school in the rain.
I was holding it together, getting my lessons prepared and someone came in the room and just said to me “David Bowie’s dead”.
Immediately I just said “WHAT???”
In fact, the news spread around the teachers’ room pretty fast. Usually people are busy getting their lessons planned but everyone just stopped.
It’s hard to comprehend that someone is just not in the world any more.
There’s a period where you can’t come to terms with it.
I felt a bit empty or something.
Then I had to go and teach.
During the classes that morning, when I wasn’t interacting with my students, like when I was getting the CD prepared, or when I turned away from them to write on the board, it came back to me quite quickly, and I got surprisingly emotional and had to try to get control of myself!
Fair enough I hadn’t slept much so I was feeling a bit weird anyway.
But I’m still quite surprised at how moved I was.
It was so unexpected.
It’s like David Bowie himself had punched me in the stomach.
Apparently he used to train as a boxer to keep fit.
Well, apparently he was still pretty fit because laid a combination of punches on me that morning that I didn’t expect.
In those moments when I wasn’t occupied by something else I couldn’t help thinking of the times when David Bowie’s music was in my life. They were all key moments for me somehow. Like being in the car with my Dad, discovering new feelings as a teenager in the corner of the living room, dancing in a nightclub somewhere with girls, doing Bowie impressions with my best friends, singing a Bowie song to try and seduce my girlfriend (it worked – the song? “The Prettiest Star”).
They all struck me, but I wasn’t the only one of course. Millions of people around the world were feeling pretty much the same things as me at that moment.

And later on I thought about that scary video that I’d seen exactly a week before and it made a lot more sense to me.
Bowie knew what he was doing. He new he was sick with cancer and he knew that he was going to die, but he didn’t tell the public. We had no idea. So he decided, probably very quickly, to make this music and throw into it all his feelings and experiences when confronted with his own mortality. Apparently he had 6 heart attacks in the year before his death, while recording the album, but he kept fighting to finish the album. Wow.

Apparently he was very close to the edge during the period when the album was due to be released. But he managed to time it somehow so that he would die a week after his birthday and the release of the album.

Even his death was a flawlessly judged artistic act.

Imagine my sleepless night, the frustration of not sleeping, the weird thoughts and fears that passed through my head in that condition. It was weird but what must it be like to be lying in bed, not waiting for dawn to come, but waiting for the end to arrive? What would you be thinking and feeling? I think Bowie has done a great job of expressing that in this music. It’s scary I know, but it’s powerful, and it’s not just morbid and depressing. There are moments where I feel he’s exstatically happy, looking back on some of the victories and joy he had in his life.

Also, the music is good. It’s got some bubbly electronic sounds and some jazz/funk drumming, and some soulful elements and sweeping string arrangements and saxophone.

But what’s mind-blowing is that Bowie used his death as a way of delivering his art to us. That punch in the stomach is a great way to get someone’s attention. Now he has everyone’s attention and we’re all listening. It’s the perfect exit! He really left with a bang.

Now what we have is a complete body of work with a distinct beginning and end, which makes it all the more powerful. I’m sure that all his best music will stand the test of time. In 100-200 years, if we’re all still here, I think Bowie will still be considered one of the most influential and significant artists of this age.

For me personally, I hope there will be many more moments coming in the future that I can share with David Bowie and his music, like the ones I had in the past.

The man may be gone, but the artist remains – preserved in the music, in the images and in our memories.

Thank you David Bowie.

Here are lots of David Bowie Links and Videos.
Just take your pick and dive in.

Space Oddity studio version with lyrics

Space Oddity live on TV in 1969

Ziggy Stardust sings Starman on BBC Top of the Pops in 1972

David Bowie announces the end of Ziggy Stardust on stage

Aladdin Sane

Bowie interviewed by Dick Cavett in 1974, clearly under the influence of cocaine

Thin White Duke


Bowie in Berlin
Guardian article www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jan/13/david-bowie-berlin-years-heroes-just-a-gigolo

Fascinating interview from 1979

Bowie in 1983 criticises MTV for not playing black music

Bowie talks about acting and touring in 1983

Nile Rogers describes meeting David Bowie

Bowie – “The Interview Years”

Bowie & Comedy – Ricky Gervais described meeting Bowie

Phil Cornwell on Stella Street (skip to 5:00 for the David Bowie impression)

Documentaries


Adam Buxton’s Audio Bowie Documentary
This is my favourite Bowie tribute.
archive.org/details/AdamBuxtonOnDavidBowie31stMarch2013
YouTube version here but with the songs removed

The new tracks – Blackstar (the creepy video I watched on Monday morning while eating corn flakes) and Lazarus

Adam & Joe talk about Bowie and do some impressions
If you watch just one of the videos in this list, please watch this one. Adam & Joe obviously love Bowie very much, and their impressions and improvisations are a lot of fun.

291. California Road Trip (Part 4)

Hi everyone, here’s part 4 in this road trip mini-series. How are you? Are you keeping up with all these new episodes? I suppose if you’re listening to this it means you are keeping up, but don’t feel rushed. Take your time, listen to them at your leisure, in your own time and at your own speed. I hope you’re finding this series interesting. In this one I’m planning to cover these things: Hollywood Boulevard and celebrity culture, an analysis of the mysterious lyrics to Hotel California by The Eagles, a visit to the extremely wealthy area of Beverley Hills, some more differences between American and British English vocabulary, the church of Scientology and then Yosemite National Park.

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Let’s see how much of that I can actually get through in this episode. I expect there will be one or two more in this series before we get back to normal podcasting as usual.

L.A. Continued… Hollywood Boulevard
I can’t remember which day this was as I’m losing track of time, but it doesn’t matter. At some point we took a walk along Hollywood Bld – that’s the one with all the stars on the ground and the names of celebrities. If you make it as a celeb, they put a star on the pavement here and you know you’ve made it because hundreds of tourists walk all over you and spill coke and ketchup on you every day. That’s the American Dream isn’t it.

Walking along Hollywood Blvd, and looking at the stars there, I wondered – how do you actually get your name on a star here? (Not that I want to of course) I just wondered – who decides which names are added and how does it happen? Since then I’ve done a bit of research (I read a TIME article based on an interview with a member of the selection committee – you can read it here: newsfeed.time.com/2013/07/16/how-to-get-a-star-on-the-hollywood-walk-of-fame/), and so…

How to get your star on Hollywood Boulevard
Essentially anyone can apply, as long as they have $30,000 dollars to spare, but the application will not be accepted unless it meets these criteria:
1. Do some iconic work in entertainment.
This means that you have to have produced something genuinely notable and celebrated in the entertainment world, like made a popular film, done some great acting on TV or in movies or made some music that’s popular enough to have made you famous. The emphasis is on accomplishing some expertise in the entertainment field, which means that reality TV stars are excluded, because it’s not counted as proper work. So that means no Kardashians. But they do accept animals. In fact several animals have their names embedded into the ground there, including Lassie and even fictional animal characters like Kermit the Frog, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Weird. You also need to have been working for at least 5 years. The main point is that this is a tourist attraction for the entertainment industry, so your name needs to be famous enough to attract tourists to come and see it. Apparently it’s working because the street is jam-packed with tourists and it’s almost impossible to actually walk along the street in some places.
2. Promise that you really want a star.
All applications require a signed statement from the applicant saying that they really want one, and that they will come to an unveiling ceremony if the application is a success. Basically, the star selection committee that is in charge of the process wants to make sure the celebrities are fully prepared to come and promote the addition of their star on the pavement. Again, this is to make sure it gets the proper media coverage, and those tourists keep coming with their dollar bills, their mobile phones and their instagram accounts.
3. Pay $30,000.
That’s how much it costs to enter the application process. Usually it’s not a problem for celebrities to pay this because other people pay on their behalf, for example management companies or other sponsors who have an interest in the person become more and more famous. Half of the fee goes to the Hollywood Historic Trust which maintains the whole street. The rest is used to pay for the paving stone with he star embedded in it, and also the security and photographers at the unveiling ceremony. It seems that people’s desire to be recognised as a famous person is what fuels the economy around here.
4. Impress the selection committee.
It’s a bit like a job interview process I suppose. In your application you need to impress the committee and show them what you’ve achieved in your career, proving that you really are a big star.
5. Choose your spot on the Boulevard.
It is possible to choose where your star is placed. The bigger you are as a celebrity, the more control you have over this. Do you want to be placed in front of McDonald’s or in front of the famous Chinese Theatre Cinema where all the premiers happen? Your power to negotiate this depends on your status in Hollywood. Apparently Clint Eastwood, a high ranking member of the Hollywood establishment, was accepted by the committee years ago but never completed his application, but nevertheless they have kept a space free for his star in a prime location – in front of that famous cinema. That’s how much of a star he really is in Hollywood – they’ve kept the best space free for him. Muhammad Ali didn’t want people walking on his name, so the committee agreed to put his star on the wall – the wall of what? You might ask. Ali’s name is on the wall of the Hollywood and Highland Shopping Centre. I wonder if you can buy a George Foreman grill in that shopping centre.

So that’s how you do it, if you’re interested.

What’s it really like there on Hollywood Boulevard?
Essentially, it’s like a bigger version of Oxford Street. It’s full of cheap attractions and huge crowds of tourists, and it’s a bit tacky. You can’t get much decent food there except burgers and pizza. I don’t recommend it really.
As we walk along the street, squeezing between people, we see names of people. Most of them are dead. There are loads that I’ve never ever heard of.
I’m struck by the thought that fame is fleeting. I mean that it doesn’t last. What’s the attraction of fame? To be so well-known that your name is embedded into the ground or onto a monument so people never forget you. Maybe people are attracted by this because they feel like it’s a way to live forever. But true long lasting fame is only gained by a tiny minority and even then it isn’t immortality it’s just a version of yourself that lives on in popular culture. A ghost.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: L.A. is a mysterious place.
I’ve tried to describe this already in this series. It’s just a general feeling that’s hard to put into words.
There’s a lot of light and dark here. Movie stars shine bright, and there’s so much glamour, but there’s also poverty, homelessness and broken dreams. So many young people have come to L.A. and then ended up corrupted by the place, or hurt by their own idealism and naivety. Some of them died young in tragic circumstances. Think of the girl Peg Entwhistle who jumped off the Hollywood sign in 1932, or young movie stars who died or hurt themselves as the result of a dangerous intake of drugs. River Phoenix for example. He was a fresh faced young movie star and musician, who died from an overdose on the doorstep of the Viper Club, which at the time was owned by Johnny Depp. Why so much oblivion?

Also, so much of the writing, films and music – the really good stuff at least, seems to be essentially about some sense of a loss of innocence, the end of the American dream, the darkness under the surface of American values or dealing with vice – particularly in the form of alcohol and drugs, and the dark side of these things. As if California represents the highest attainment of the American Dream, and is also the place that can turn into a grim and empty wilderness of the soul. Think of the detective stories of Chandler, the songs of The Eagles (not as sunny and nice as you expect) and other bands, the writing of Ginsburg, Bukowski, Burroughs, Kerouac, the comics of R Crumb and so on.

I realise that I’m talking about slightly dark themes here, in what you might have expected to be just a description of a romantic honeymoon. Well, we did have some really nice romantic moments together of course, and there was plenty of sunshine and good times, but as well as that we had a really great time getting to know the place and soaking up the atmosphere of the places we visited and one of my aims in these episodes is to get under the skin of California a bit.

Let’s consider some songs that deal with the things I’ve been talking about.

Songs about California
One example is the song Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Californication Lyrics here.

Also, we could go back to “Hotel California” and explore the meaning of the song. In fact, let’s do that.

The Eagles – Hotel California – Song Meaning
Click here for the full lyrics to the song: www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/eagles/hotelcalifornia.html

There are loads of interpretations of the meaning of this song, including some pretty far out suggestions that it’s about satanism, drug addiction. I think the latter is far more likely than the former but let’s see.

Here is a summary of the song’s meaning – both the narrative of the lyrics and the themes the song explores. In fact, this song seems to sum up pretty well what I’ve been trying to say about LA and the excesses and dark side of the American Dream.

In this part of the podcast I’m going to read from a page on Shmoop.com. Here’s a citation and a link:
Shmoop Editorial Team. (2008, November 11). Hotel California Meaning. Retrieved August 25, 2015 from www.shmoop.com/hotel-california-eagles/meaning.html
So, if you want to follow what I’m saying just click the link above.

LA movies
LA Confidential, The Big Lebowski, Beverly Hills Cop, Pulp Fiction. Any film noir like Chinatown or The Big Sleep.

Beverley Hills – this is a really rich town, which is undeniably beautiful and well kept with palm tree lined streets, lovely properties and very smart shopfronts and boutique stores but some parts of it are filled with unbelievably fake looking people with loads of plastic surgery. There are Kim Kardashian clones everywhere with butt implants that mean they can’t walk properly. The streets are full young guys in rented sportscars which self-consciously zoom between sets traffic lights. It’s quite ridiculous and fairly ugly really.

And yes, I did just mention Kim Kardashian.

I always thought I would never mention that family on this podcast because I don’t really like what they do. I mean, I think it’s a bit empty and I don’t know why they’re so popular but if I’m going to talk about celebrity culture in L.A. then how can I do it without mentioning the Kardashians (reluctantly).

Who’s Kim Kardashian?
She’s the daughter of a rich West Coast socialite, and a powerful lawyer. She’s famous for being famous. She’s like Paris Hilton basically. That’s how she first became known in the media, as a friend of Paris Hilton. What a claim to fame! “So what do you do Kim?” “I hang around with someone who doesn’t do anything”. Wow, that’s like being famous for doing even less than nothing! So she’s famous for being friends with someone who’s famous because she’s famous. That’s actually quite impressive. Well done! Maybe that’s the appeal. She makes it look easy. Then in 2003 I think she decided that in order to get even more famous that she would have to actually do something, so she released a sex tape. That’s basically a home made porno. Classy. In my opinion, that may be the quickest and least respectable way to make a name for yourself in Hollywood, but fair play to her – it worked. She then continued to sell off her private life in a reality show called Keeping Up With The Kardashians in which the viewer is invited to follow her and her sisters through their pampered and vacuous every day life.

An example of what happens in a show?
I just had a look on Wikipedia for some show summaries. Here’s what I found from a random entry in series 3 of the show. “Episode 22. Khloé faces pressure about her weight when she decides to do PETA’s “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign. Kris and Kourtney confront Kim about her shopping addiction. Kim gets laser eye surgery after struggling to see herself in a mirror at a dance rehearsal. (I imagine that was a huge crisis – not being able to see herself) Bruce is anxious to talk to Kendall and Kylie about his colonoscopy.”
What’s a colonoscopy? That’s when a doctor inspects your colon by sticking a big camera up your bum. Ok, so you’ve got the general idea.

My problem with the Kardashians is that I don’t get it. I don’t get the appeal. I must be wrong because Kim is one of the most followed people on Twitter and it seems that everyone seems to love her. So, I must be wrong – so if you’re a Kardashian fan, let me know why. I’d love to know the appeal.

Is her reality show popular because we just like to look at the lives of the rich and famous? Is Kim Kardashian a role model? Apparently, for some people she is a woman who has taken careful control of her image and is now rich and successful as a result, like Beyonce or something. But, it helps when you start out rich in the first place, doesn’t it? And at least Beyonce can sing and dance. What can Kim Kardashian do? Well, she can take good selfies. She can use Instagram well. She can market herself well. I suppose that’s it isn’t it.

She married Kanye West, the rapper, which I imagine only happened because Kanye West is not allowed to marry himself. Yes, he loves himself, or that’s what people say anyway. Maybe Kim Kardashian fell in love with him just because she was so impressed by the size of his ego. Surely nobody’s ego is as big as mine, she thought – but then she met Kanye and couldn’t resist his charm, and by that I mean his media status. Good luck to them, I suppose. Maybe I’m being cynical and they just really love each other. Well, if that’s the case – good luck to them! I hope they stay together and prove me wrong, and everyone lives happily ever after.

What do you think? I’d love to know.

More American English & British English
These words are all related to food in some way.
UK word – USA word
Chips – Fries
Crisps – Chips
Biscuit – Cookie
Jelly – Jell-o
Jam – Jelly
Sweets – Candy
Treacle – Molasses
Candy Floss – Cotton Candy
Aubergine – Eggplant
Courgette – Zucchini

ukulele-soprano-debutant“Californication” Lyrics & Chords
www.tabs4ukulele.com/bands/red-hot-chili-peppers/californication.html#null

End of part 4. Part 5 coming soon…
Hotel California

278. Marcus Keeley / Northern Ireland (Part 2)

In part 1 of this episode we met Marcus Keeley. In part 2 we are going to talk specifically about Northern Ireland, its culture, the atmosphere there and things you can do if you visit as a tourist. There will be a part 3 of this conversation, which will focus on the accents and dialects in Northern Ireland.

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2. Focus on Northern Ireland
My listeners, who are around the world, may not know very much about Northern Ireland. It’s often a bit overlooked – in my experience, a lot of people see the UK as just London, Edinburgh, Oxford & Cambridge, Manchester, Stonehenge and a few other famous spots, perhaps Wales. Northern Ireland is rarely mentioned. The UK is a bit confusing – people aren’t completely sure how Ireland and Northern Ireland fit into it. I expect people are aware that there has been trouble there in the past, with the IRA and the sectarian conflict, but there’s more to it than that. Let’s try and let my listeners know a bit more of what it’s really like to live in Northern Ireland.

– When you meet people from other countries, how much do they know about where you come from? Do you get the same kinds of reactions from people?
– Where is it?
– Capital city?
– What’s it like to live in Belfast? Is it a good place to live?
– What can people do or see if they visit?
– What’s the atmosphere like these days?
– Is there still a sense of trouble?
– Do your generation still hold on to that feeling?
– Do you remember what it used to be like?
– Why was there trouble in the first place?
– How do you see the future in Northern Ireland?
– How do you see The UK?
– What did you think of the election? Where does N. Ireland stand?
– What if The UK left the EU?

Nadine from Girls Aloud “I’m going to give him a bath”

Markus keeley pic copy

262. What is Britishness? (Part 2)

Welcome back to part 2 of this episode in which we are exploring the subject of Britishness. In this one we are looking at how the Brits define and understand their own national identity. [Download]

Image: Gene Bible www.genebible.co.uk
Small Donate ButtonHow do British People define “Britishness”?
When you ask the average British person to define “Britishness” I find that they always give certain ‘stock answers’ to this question too. As we know, it’s hard to truly define this concept, so you end up listing various associations, which don’t fully deal with the whole subject in a satisfyingly complete way.

Video
I found a video on YouTube called “What is Britishness?” by Rebecca Devaraj. It’s a short video exploring Britishness for her final-year university project.
It looks like she spent the morning in a local park, asking passers-by the question “What is Britishness?”
Listen to the audio. Can you guess which answer I think is the best?

Some vocab from the video
Having a stiff upper lip and getting on with things
Being accepting and just getting on with it
Bulldog – it has connotations with Churchill, and the advert… www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbz-IsEOCKo
Bad weather – torrents (torrents of rain) ***I’ve just realised that they said “tolerance” not torrents! Did you notice that?***
Progress
We get behind our sports teams
You just are British – that’s it really. If you’re British – you enter the mix.

The best comment?
For me it’s the guy (Professor Jeremy Black, author of “A Short History of Britain”) who says this:
“I would have thought that Britishness defines the characteristics of whoever are the citizens of Britain, whatever their origins at any one time. Ordinarily, we would argue that Britishness is linked to notions of liberty and freedom and in fact the very diversity that makes it difficult to define what Britishness means”.

Wikipedia Definition

Britishness is the state or quality of being British,[2][3] or of embodying British characteristics,[3] and is used to refer to that which binds and distinguishes the British people and forms the basis of their unity and identity,[4] or else to explain expressions of British culture—such as habits, behaviours or symbols—that have a common, familiar or iconic quality readily identifiable with the United Kingdom.[5] Dialogue about the legitimacy and authenticity of Britishness is intrinsically tied with power relations and politics;[6] in terms of nationhood and belonging, expressing or recognising one’s Britishness provokes a range of responses and attitudes, such as advocacy, indifference or rejection.[6] Macphee and Poddar state that although the designation of the two differing terms, Britishness and Englishness, is not simple as they are invariably conflated, they are both tied into the identity of the British Empire and nation, since these last two are altering considerably as Englishness and Britishness do too. Thus the slippage between the two words can be seen as a play between these changing dynamics.[7]

That’s interesting.

So, in summary that means it’s:
– Whatever distinguishes British people and culture from other nations, whatever is unique to the UK.
– It includes habits, behaviours, or symbols that are specific or familiar to the UK
– This conversation usually ends up with references to the power structure of the UK – politics and monarchy.
– Expressing Britishness provokes a range of feelings. For example, waving a British flag might cause people (in the UK) to go “Yey!” or “whatever” or “I find that offensive”.
– “Britishness” and “Englishness” are different things, but they are often used to mean the same thing – Britain from an international point of view, especially as an empire.

So, what’s the difference between Britain, and England? (and indeed Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland)
Why would it be offensive to wave a British flag?

Generally in England it’s less offensive, but in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland you might meet people who put their countries before the union of the UK, and in fact feel that the UK was forced on them in some way.
What about waving an English flag?
In England, the UK flag is associated with unity, inclusion, multiculturalism and so on. The English flag on its own is more associated with English nationalism, which in turn is associated with empire building, colonialisation and also football hooligans. Generally, the English flag is displayed when there’s a football match, and the behaviour that goes along with that.

In terms of how Brits define Britishness… This Guardian Article Sums It Up Rather Well
www.theguardian.com/uk-news/guardianwitness-blog/2014/jun/09/scottish-independence-10-things-that-sum-up-britishness

What about the Scots, the Welsh & the Northern Irish?
I’m English, and British, so when I talk about Britishness, I’m also talking about Englishness to a certain extent, but Britain also includes Scotland, Wales and N.Ireland. Do they feel included in all this talk of Britishness?
Not necessarily. Some people in those countries feel strongly about independence and resent being ‘lumped in with England’. They believe their countries have unique identities too, which are not always represented when people talk about Britishness. Some would rather not be part of Britain at all, as we say recently in Scotland with the strong independence movement.
Personally, I think Britishness is quite a flexible term, and it does include Scottishness, Welshness and Northern Irishness, but I can understand they get pissed off that their culture is not always represented in this kind of discussion. Personally, I was born and raised in England, and so many of my British associations are also English. I’d like to get more Scottish, Welsh and Irish people on my podcast.
Also, it’s worth remembering that most people don’t feel all that strongly about it. I reckon most people just want to get on and don’t want too much fuss. I’m proud of that too – usually resentment between countries in the UK does not result in violence these days, although that’s not to say violence has not occurred in the past, particularly regarding terrorist attacks related to the troubles in Northern Ireland, which is a subject that deserves to be covered fully in a podcast in the future.

What I think / What I’m proud of
When my students were brainstorming their British associations, I did too. Here’s my list, of personal British associations (in no particular order).

Tolerance and acceptance (although there seems to be a
Freedom (although this is a growing movement against immigration and about taking back the country from unwelcome foreign visitors – that British identity is being lost due to too many foreigners, and the fact we’re run by the EU. Those are views held by a fairly marginal political party called UKIP, who are having a big effect on voting patterns and the political landscape in the UK)
Fairness -“It’s just not cricket” (but are we really fair?)
Pragmatism – getting things done
Humour
Resolve
Music
Comedy
Literature
The land itself
Cricket, Rugby (football too?)
The diverse accents
The NHS
Diversity & Acceptance of Diversity
Certain inventions
Sherlock Holmes & Dr Watson
Drinking Tea with milk, the proper way
Pretending to be proudly British!
Taking the piss
Pubs
Liverpool, Birmingham, London
A slight sense of guilt about Scotland, Wales, Ireland etc – but knowing that is also nonsense, but it’s there a bit.
Tolkein
Monty Python
Ali G
I could go on…

When I came back from Japan, I saw the UK with fairly fresh and objective eyes. I remember the greenness of the place, the relaxedness, the small mindedness. It was very Tolkienesque.

Some things I’m not proud of, like certain racist or small-minded people, poor public services, corruption and elitism, blind national pride, etc…

All in all, I hope that Brits, and English people too, remember that our countries are diverse places and that is what makes us strong.

Billy Bragg – England, Half English (Live)

Lyrics

My mother was half English and I’m half English too
I’m a great big bundle of culture, tied up in the red white and blue
I’m a fine example of your Essex man
And I’m well familiar with the Hindustan (This is an Indian English-language daily newspaper)
‘Cause my neighbors are half English and I’m half English too

My breakfast was half English and so am I, you know
I had a plate of Marmite soldiers, washed down with a cappuccino
And I have a veggie curry about once a week
The next day I fry it up as bubble and squeak
‘Cause my appetites, half English and I’m half English too

Dance with me to this very English melody
From morris dancing to Morrissey
All that stuff came from across the sea

Britannia, she’s half English, she speaks Latin at home
St. George was born in the Lebanon, how he got here I don’t know
And those three lions on your shirt
They never sprang from England’s dirt
Them lions are half English and I’m half English too

Le-li, umma le-li-ya, le-li Umma le-li-ya
Le-li, umma le-li-ya, bledi g’desh akh! Le-li-ya

Oh, my country, what a beautiful country you are.

The conclusion (of sorts)
Britishness, like any cultural identity, is always changing. These things never stay the same. There is always a sense that the culture is being lost. That’s just the sense of the present order slipping away and being replaced by the new one, at every moment of every minute – things are changing and nothing will stay the same. That brings some sense of fear and panic – the idea that we’re going to lose the good things we have.

People also need a clearly defined culture in order to feel secure, so they know where they are and they can trust the people around them. People tend to prefer the things they know and distrust things they don’t know. It’s quite easy to blame others for that frightening sense that things are changing for the worse.

I think this is why a lot of people have fear and hatred of immigrants and foreigners. They’re scared of the unknown agents of change who look and behave differently. I suppose it’s human nature, but it’s sad and unnecessary when it ends up in violence and suffering. Obviously, we shouldn’t tolerate certain behaviour.

Where am I going with this?

What I mean is – there is no such thing as true “Britishness” unless it is just a snapshot of what is happening right at this moment in Britain. What is going on? What are most people thinking and doing? It’s almost impossible to comprehend the subtlety of what Britishness really is at any moment, because it’s so complex. That’s why the question invites the standard mind-numbing responses, like “It’s The Queen, tea, strawberry jam, Monty Python, a game of cricket, 9 pints of lager and a fight outside the chip shop” – people just list things they associate with the UK because there’s no other way of explaining it. Just a bunch of associations.

Britishness is negotiated
Also, I believe that Britishness is not an absolute concept, it’s something which is negotiated. Everyone has their own version of Britishness, and in fact Britishness changes depending on who is in power, who’s got the money, the influence and the cultural capital. In the end, it doesn’t matter how much you say that Britishness is all about cricket, when hardly anyone plays cricket any more because there’s no money in it.

Britishness is a blanket term which is supposed to incorporate all the diverse elements of multiculturalism.
Britishness means diversity, inclusivity and a celebration of the success and positivity of multiculturalism. So, in that sense, Britishness is something which is supposed to unify us, provide us with a sense of pride and therefore duty and obligation to the country we belong to. We’re less likely to smash the system if we believe in it.

Britishness is a unifying force which just keeps everything together
After the 2005 terror attacks, the government were keen to reinforce national pride, to promote the British brand to its own people, in an effort to fight back against the destructive forces behind the attacks. The idea of a Britishness day was suggested, but it didn’t really go anywhere. What could that be? A day when we argue about what Britishness is? Also, it’s all a bit close to nationalism, and we don’t like that in the UK. Nobody wants to be associated with facism, so often people have a defensive attitude to national pride, usually along the lines of “I think it’s fine to be proud of Britain” or “I AM proud of Britain and there’s nothing wrong with that.” It’s usually that sort of thing.

What about all the bad things done in the name of Britain? Are you proud of them too?
Most people seem quite happy to pick and choose which aspects they are proud of. They usually will ignore the atrocities in our colonial past, proudly declaring their pride in English tea – despite the treatment of India during the colonial era.
I’m wary of being too proud of my country because I know that we’ve done some pretty bad things in the past. Also, I think national pride can be blinding, and ultimately quite destructive. It’s good to be proud of your roots, but there is a more important thing to remember – that there is a bigger picture – and that is that it’s stupid to think that one nationality is intrinsically better than others.

You can be whoever the hell you want to be
It doesn’t matter where you pay your taxes you can just define your own identity as you see fit. Just as long as you don’t go out of your way to hurt others, go ahead and be whatever you like. That’s the main thing. Just try to be a good person. The rest is just fluff.

LEPSTERS – What’s it all about?
Leave your comments, thoughts and opinions in the comments section, and practice your English!

Related Episodes
If you found this episode interesting, check out these ones too:
261. What is Britishness? (Part 1)
128. Luke’s Stand Up Comedy Show – Featuring jokes about British food, weather and our Royal family – Now fully transcribed
131. Rickipedia – Conversation with my Dad, in which we answer various questions from listeners, including some things about British culture.
British Slang (A-C)
British Slang (D-G)
British Slang (H-M)
British Slang (N-Z)
156. British Comedy: Ali G
172. British Comedy: Peter Cook & Dudley Moore
177. What Londoners Say vs What They Mean
192. Culture Shock: Life in London (Part 1)
192. Culture Shock: Life in London (Part 2)
195. British Comedy: Monty Python’s Flying Circus
199. The UK/USA Quiz
202. British Comedy: Monty Python & The Holy Grail
219. Scottish Independence – Key notions of national identity

192. Culture Shock: Life in London (Pt.1)

This episode is all about common complaints made by foreign students living in London. It’s common to experience some level of culture shock when dealing with the realities of living in the capital city as a foreign visitor. In this episode I’ll try and clarify some of the confusions and frustrations relating to every day life in London. Click here to download this episode. Click here for part 2 of this episode.

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I lived in London for many years and while working as an English teacher there I heard a lot of complaints from foreign students. I also heard plenty of nice comments of course. But in this episode I’d like to focus on the complaints in order to try and explain or demystify them. Fair enough – some of the complaints are valid, but often they are the result of those students/visitors experiencing culture shock related to living in an environment that was not normal for them, or for which the cause was not obvious. It’s important to find reasons for cultural phenomena that you don’t understand because it prevents you from coming to false conclusions about that place. I don’t want people just assuming that the English people are just strange. I mean, we are a bit strange of course, just like anyone, but a lot of the things we do are quite normal when you see it from our point of view. So, what are those common complaints? And what are the reasons for these strange and annoying aspects to English life? Perhaps the Londoners have got it wrong and they do things in the wrong way, or perhaps the foreign visitors just don’t see the whole picture. Listen to find out more.

What’s in this Episode?
*There is so much to say on this subject that I expect it will be divided into two episodes!*
1. Some short interviews with my colleagues in London, in which we discuss these common complaints.
I wanted to find out if my colleagues could explain some of the weird or annoying things about life in London. You can hear our responses in this episode. Some expressions and phrases from that recording are written on this webpage (below).
2. My responses to the complaints, and some explanations.
I’ll try and explain the reasons for these particular aspects of London life as well as I can, and I’ll decide if the complaint is fair or not.

It’s not all Negative
The cup is usually half-full! Of course, foreign students in London have plenty of great things to say about the place. Certainly, there are more positive things than negative, but I find that when students have lived in London for a little while, and they start to come face to face with the realities of living here, they start to develop little gripes (complaints) about the place, which can confuse and frustrate them. Let me try and clarify!

The Complaints about Life in London (commonly said by students of English)
Here’s a list of some of the typical complaints made by foreign students studying in London, and some notes relating to my responses that you can hear in this audio episode. You might find some of the complaints bizarre – that’s normal. I found some of them really bizarre when I first heard them, but you have to remember that the people who said these things came from countries in which the situation is quite different. They’re all completely true, and very common comments. After each complaint I will judge of the complaint is “reasonable” or “not reasonable”, and then I will “reject” or “accept” the complaint. If you don’t agree with my decisions, leave a comment explaining why!

1. “Why do you have a separate hot tap and a separate cold tap? I’m always scaulding my hands.”
The old 2-taps issue! It’s due to the development of plumbing, lack of water pressure, and separate water supplies.
uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090125000341AAR51ic
Interview with Karen Robertson. Last year Karen contacted me after reading a blog post I wrote on “Two Taps in the Bathroom” on the London School of English Blog. She lives in London, but is originally from South Africa. She was studying a MA in digital journalism at London Goldsmith University, and was doing a video project on foreign students’ reactions to London’s plumbing system, specifically the two taps issue. She wanted to interview me for the project. I recorded the interview and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to let you listen to the conversation. Karen has researched the issue a lot and is able to give some pretty good reasons for the two taps in the bathroom mystery! (Karen gave me full permission to include this interview on the podcast).

2. “Why don’t you have electrical sockets in the bathroom? How am I supposed to dry my hair after I’ve had a shower and look in the mirror at the same time?”
This is because we consider it to be dangerous and there is legislation to protect people from being electrocuted.
singletrackworld.com/forum/topic/electrical-sockets-in-bathrooms-why-not

3. “The food is so plain and unhealthy”
Why is English food so bad? Most of the famous stuff is based on ‘working class recipes’ – the recipes of poor people who had limited access to ingredients and who had to make food that would keep or was portable. This food is often specific to local regions, and naturally people are proud of their local culture and so they celebrate the food, and it becomes part of our tradition. The rich people had food too, but it’s pretty exclusive stuff and very expensive. A lot of our good food is seasonal. A lot is cooked privately, at home. Also, we have been very international for many years. English food is Indian, Chinese, French etc. We eat YOUR food, thanks very much. I think it was John Cleese who said that English food is bad because we were too busy taking over the world to focus on cooking.
answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110123154803AAwbAhZ

4. “The weather is miserable. It’s always raining”
Why is British weather so bad? It’s not that bad, it’s just changeable. Geography – we’re far north of the hemisphere and that’s just what happens up there! Deal with it. Also, it doesn’t get foggy in London like the stereotype. That’s an old myth. We had the industrial revolution which brought lots of smoke which combined with fog from the river. The result was old victorian smog made famous by Charles Dickens, Sherlock Holmes stories and others. The weather’s not that bad really, just a bit grey and chilly. The rain means the country is very green. The weather in Paris is pretty much the same.
answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110613075947AABr8zK

5. “Why on earth do you drive on the left? It’s like you have to do everything differently here”
Why do the brits drive on the left? We’re not that stupid actually. We’ve been doing it for centuries, ever since it was normal to ride on the left as a way of staying safe (keep your sword in your right hand to defend yourself on horseback, etc). It should make sense, right? Remember, left is right, and right is just wrong! Also, it’s not just us. Plenty of others do it too including India, Japan, Australia and large parts of Africa. Sure, most of the world drives on the right, but it would be pretty hard for us to switch. Actually, our government is considering introducing a new law so that we will all drive on the right, but they’re going to phase it in over a 5 year period. First it’ll just apply to busses, and then cars, and finally motorbikes. Those last two sentences were a joke. Well done if you noticed :P
www.straightdope.com/columns/read/634/why-do-the-british-drive-on-the-left

6. “The trains are always late, and when they arrive they are full and I can’t get on!”
This is the result of a combo of one bad decision by the government, privatisation and a powerful union for the tube.
www.gizmodo.co.uk/2012/12/what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-british-trains/

7. “Why are there so many foreigners here? I haven’t met a ‘real’ English person yet”
Why are there so many foreginers here? Oh the irony. You won’t make many British friends with that attitude, except for UKIP or BNP members but they might not want to be friends with you in return. Generally, we’re a proudly multicultural place. Also, London is much more multicultural than other parts of the UK, so it’s not an accurate representation of the country as a whole. Take a good look around before making a sweeping judgement! Also, this is partly due to Britain’s past, particularly London. At one time, the British empire spanned the globe. We’ve had interests and dealings with many foreign countries for many years. We’re tied to plenty of foreign countries in complex ways. This is reflected in the fact that we have a multicultural population. Many people have come from our former colonies. Some were invited after the war. Also, lots of people just want to come to The UK because there are plenty of opportunities here, and why should they be stopped? It’s quite hypocritical to complain about the number of foreigners in London when you’re a foreigner (even if you’re just visiting for a while). London has an appeal for many people and for many different reasons. It always strikes me as ironic when a foreign visitor turns their nose up at London saying, “there are too many foreigners here”. What did they expect? Diversity is an integral part of London’s history and identity. Do they really expect some kind of Hollywood stereotype of London in which business men with top hats wander around empty streets like it’s the 1950s, saying “Good morning” with received pronunciation accents? Wake up and smell the coffee. Welcome to the real world in the 21st century. Multiculturalism may not be normal where you’re from but London is a proudly diverse place. Regarding immigration, some people in Britain believe it has gone too far, and maybe they have a case and the local culture is somehow being swamped, or maybe they’re just using immigration as a scapegoat for other problems. Whatever the case, personally I find it very disappointing to hear students complaining about London’s diversity. The bit about “I haven’t met a real English person yet?” – well, what is a real English person I ask you? Also, if you walk around with that kind of attitude, you’re unlikely to make good friends with many Londoners, except perhaps UKIP supporters.)

Vocabulary Extracts from the Conversation with my Colleages
Look at the following language from the conversations. These are vocabulary extracts from the conversation with my colleagues in London.
Look at the phrases:
Which topics were they about?
Can you remember what each person said about these things?

Listen again to the conversation and try to notice the phrases as they are used. In the podcast I’ll explain these phrases to you a little bit.

1.
Time and time again
Maybe it’s because it’s a much drier climate
Damp
A lot of English people are lazy when it comes to …-ing
We don’t have any call for other languages
Apart from English, learning languages isn’t fun

2.
Let’s see
The server
Stuff like that
I tend to agree
I can understand that
Get run over
We’ve got that weird mentality
We’re stupid aren’t we

3.
Come up with (come up with a list of things)
What do you reckon? I mean, like, why?
In the olden days
Environmentally friendly
Have something on tap
Plumbing
To have running water
To count yourself lucky

4.
I must dash
I’m sorry Luke, really, I have to dash

5.
They’re always griping and moaning
To be honest, they do like England a lot otherwise they wouldn’t come here
Get irritated
Incensed
Now tell me if this is weird, or not, right?
Washing up liquid
That could’ve been my house. That could’ve been me.
How else would you do it?
Sorry, I didn’t catch that
You have to soap them all individually, then rinse them
It’s got soap left on! It’s got the residue!
Can I just clarify what we’re talking about?
Put them under running water
Run them under the tap

CLICK HERE FOR PART 2 OF THIS EPISODE.

186. Understanding Culture Shock – with Lindsay & Gabby

This episode is all about culture shock and culture shock experiences and I’m glad to be joined by Lindsay & Gabby from the All Ears English podcast. Right-click here to download the episode.

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Lindsay & Gabby from All Ears EnglishLindsay McMahon and Gabby Wallace are well-qualified and well-experienced teachers of English from Boston, USA. They’re also the girls from the All Ears English Podcast. Last month I was a guest on their podcast and we talked about being funny and telling jokes in English. So, I returned the favour a few days ago and invited them onto LEP. Lindsay & Gabby have plenty of experience of not only meeting & teaching foreign visitors to the USA but also of travelling abroad and living in foreign countries. In this episode I talk to the girls about our experiences related to culture shock. Listen to the episode to find out more!

At the end of this episode, Lindsay & Gabby mentioned an eBook which they’ve written and is available for you to download. It’s full of useful advice on how to integrate into a new English-speaking culture. Click this link for more information, and to download the eBook: allearsenglish.com/luke

In this episode
We talk about:
Lindsay & Gabby’s teaching experiences.
Our travelling experiences, and instances of ‘culture shock’ that we have experienced in different countries.
Examples of culture shock experienced by visitors to the USA & UK.
Some reflections and conclusions on how to understand and deal with culture shock when it happens to you.

Thanks for listening, and look out for some more episodes about culture shock coming soon to LEP.

177. What Londoners Say vs What They Mean

Here are some cliches that you might hear Londoners say, and some explanations of what they really mean.

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This podcast is based on an article from the trendy/hipster website “Buzzfeed”. It’s about some common things that Londoners say, and what they really mean. It’ll not only teach you some vocabulary, but will allow you to get under the skin of London and find out some real inside knowledge of what it’s like to live there for real.

I’ll go through the list and explain everything for you.

Article originally published on BuzzFeed here.
Photo illustration by Matt Tucker, Dan Kitwood / Getty/paulprescott72/Thinkstock

***Please be aware – there is some rude language and swearing in this episode***

1. “London prices” — Rip-off prices.
2. “Sorry” — I’m not sorry.
3. “Sorry” — You have just trodden on my foot, and I loathe you with every fibre of my being.
4. “Excuse me” — You have paused momentarily at the ticket barrier and I am boiling with rage.
5. “My fault entirely” — Your fault entirely.
6. “I’m fine, thanks” — I am barely managing to conceal a churning maelstrom of emotions.
7. “How are you?” — Fine. Just say fine.
8. “See you Saturday!” — Don’t forget to email me twice to make sure that we’re actually meeting on Saturday.
9. “Let’s have lunch” — Let’s walk to Pret and back as fast as we can.
10. “I’m having a party in Wimbledon, come along” — Please travel for four and a half hours as I live in the middle of bloody nowhere.
11. “Open for business” — Oligarchs welcome.
12. “Centre of global finance” — Money launderers’ paradise.
13. “My commute? It’s not too bad. About average” — It involves three modes of transport, takes hours each day, and is slowly crushing my spirit.
14. “Could you move down a bit please?” — I’m not asking, I’m telling.
15. “Could you move down a bit please?” — I am seconds away from a devastating mental collapse.
16. “Could you move down a bit please?” — If you don’t, I will start killing indiscriminately.
17. “Due to adverse weather conditions” — It was a bit windy earlier.
18. “Due to the wet weather conditions” — A tiny amount of rain has fallen.
19. “Please take care when…” — Don’t you dare blame us if…
20. “We apologise for the inconvenience caused” — Via the medium of this dehumanised pre-recorded message.
21. “Due to a signalling failure…” — Due to an excuse we just made up…
22. “Rail replacement bus service” — Slow, agonising descent into madness.
23. “There is a good service on all London Underground lines” — Though this very much depends how you define “good”.
24. “Planned engineering works” — That’s your weekend plans fucked, then.
25. “Would Inspector Sands please report to the operations room immediately” — Ohgodohgod everybody panic, we’re all about to die.
26. “Annual fare increase” — We’re rinsing you suckers for even more money. Again.
27. “House party in Tooting? See you there!” — South of the river? No fucking chance.
28. “I live in Zone One” — I am unimaginably wealthy.
29. “The area is really up and coming” — Only one tramp shouts at me in the morning.
30. “Vibrant” — Actual poor people live here.
31. “Gentrification” — I am so glad they’re rid of the poor people.
32. “Gentrified” — Oh bollocks now I can’t afford to live here either.
33. “Efficient use of space” — Microscopic.
34. “Studio flat” — Bedsit.
35. “Incredible potential” — Absolute shithole.
36. “Affordable” — Uninhabitable.
37. “Deceptively spacious” — Basically a cupboard.
38. “Good transport links” — There’s a bus stop 10 minutes’ walk away.
39. “Authentic” — Fake.
40. “I just bought a flat” — My parents just helped me buy a flat.
41. “Swift half” — Many, many, many, many halves.
42. “Quick pint” — In the pub until closing time.
43. “We’re going on a date” — We’re getting pissed together.
44. “Picnic” — Daytime piss-up.
45. “Barbecue” — Piss-up in the garden.
46. “South London” — Here be monsters.
47. “West London” — Here be posh people.
48. “East London” — Here be young people.
49. “North London” — Here be newspaper columnists.
50. “Oxford Circus” — Roiling hellscape.
51. “Tech city” — Bunch of start-ups you’ve never heard of.
52. “London has some of the best restaurants in the world” — So how come I always end up at Nandos?
53. “London is full of cultural delights” — Which I never visit.
54. “Gourmet coffee” — Ludicrously overpriced coffee.
55. “Exciting pop-up restaurant” — You guys like queuing, right?
56. “We have a no bookings policy” — We hate our customers.
57. “This pub has character” — This is not a gastropub, and I’m scared.
58. “Traditional boozer” — Pub that does not serve wasabi peas.
59. “What do you do?” — How much do you earn?
60. “He works in finance” — He’s a psycho.
61. “He works in media” — He’a a wanker.
62. “He works in PR” — He’s a bullshitter.
63. “He works in tech” — He’s got a blog.
64. “Working hours” — Waking hours.
65. “Greatest city on earth” — Apart from New York.
66. “You know what they say: He who is tired of London…” — I am so tired of London.